Just as people can have unrealistic beliefs about their own greatness, people can unrealistic beliefs about the greatness of the nation in which they live. This latter phenomenon is known as national narcissism.
New research provides evidence that national narcissists are happy to boast about their nation’s environmental protections, while opposing policies that would actually benefit the environment. The findings appear in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.
“We observed the dissociation between environmental claims and actions in the worldwide political arena,” said study author Aleksandra Cisłak of the SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Warsaw.
“The former U.S. President Donald Trump claimed America’s environmental leadership on the one hand, and withdrew from international initiatives aimed at reducing the speed of climate change on the other. Similarly, Polish President Andrzej Duda opted out of the Green Deal and just days later claimed Poland to be in the vanguard of proenvironmental action.”
“Those politicians evidently enjoyed their green words but did not want to pay the price of being genuinely green,” Cisłak explained “And that is greenwashing. In business, such a deceitful strategy usually backfires when the consumers find it out. We wanted to understand why in the realm of politics it does not.”
In five studies, the researchers surveyed 2,231 individuals in Poland regarding their support for proenvironmental policies and their support for promoting the image of Poland as a country with strong environmental protections.
To measure national narcissism, the researchers also asked the participants how much they agreed or disagreed with statements such as “I will never be satisfied until Poles gets all they deserve” and “If Poles had a major say in the world, the world would be a much better place.”
Cisłak and her colleagues found that those with high levels of national narcissism tended to support efforts to promote Poland’s image as proenvironmental, but did not support actual proenvironmental policies. This was true even after the researchers controlled for factors such as national identification, political orientation, individual narcissism, age, and gender.
“We found out that environmentalism does not mix well with strong national attachment, which is rooted in feelings of underappreciation — a phenomenon called national narcissism. Such belief in one’s nation’s unrecognized greatness is yet another barrier to making the world a greener place,” Cisłak told PsyPost.
“Political greenwashing sheds favorable light on the group the citizens belong to, and usually is a low-cost strategy. Thus, it mobilizes political support among those who feel others do not appreciate our own nation enough and expect from us a sacrifice that would benefit themselves,” Cisłak explained.
“Unless we provide some way to satisfy those deep-seated motives, we may expect that certain groups within societies would reject political solutions that in the broader perspective seem inevitable in counteracting climate change, but impose costs or require some sort of individual sacrifice.”
One of the main limitations of the research is that only Poles were surveyed. How well the results generalize to other countries remains unclear. The researchers also hope to further examine how to counteract the effects of national narcissism.
“We do not know yet how to tackle those deep-seated motives and under which conditions long-term beneficial policies may still gain enough popular support,” Cisłak said. “We aim to further investigate this question. From the broader theoretical perspective, tackling the underlying motives would also help us understand the process of formation of defensive group identity.”
Previous research has found that national narcissism is linked to support for populist ideologies and feelings that one’s group is unfairly disadvantaged. Research also suggests that national narcissism has played an important role in the strengthening of conspiracy thinking in the United States.
“The link between national narcissism and greenwashing may be considered an example of a broader phenomenon of group-based identities underlying support for public policies. In this, support for greenwashing is similar to anti-science attitudes such as vaccination hesitance,” Cisłak said.
“It feels powerful and unique to reject the solutions recommended or encouraged by other groups, especially those that are perceived as elite. Because for some audiences it is of paramount importance how political actions affect the image of the groups with which those audiences identify, they tend to support policies that satisfy the need to be visible and recognized.”
“That is also why conspiracy beliefs (regarding vaccination or climate change) are so strongly tied to defensive group identity (or unappreciated identity as Francis Fukuyama would say) – they provide an accessible and flattering explanation for the alleged disadvantage of one’s own nation,” Cisłak added. “At the same time, they produce reluctance to support long-term nationally or globally beneficial policies.”
The study, “National narcissism, national identification, and support for greenwashing versus proenvironmental campaigns“, was authored by Aleksandra Cislak, Aleksandra Cichocka, Adrian Dominik Wojcik, and Taciano Milfont.